Movies

Is Jack Reacher signalling a new type of action flick?

Jack Reacher Never Go BackI recently watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and had high hopes because I rather liked the first one. And there’s there’s always the appeal of watching Tom Cruise; regardless of how he lives privately, he is an immensely likeable screen presence.

The first film in this series established Cruise’s broken hero Jack Reacher as an emotionally-driven righter-of-wrongs. An ex-military Robin Hood who keeps a low profile and, presumably, wrestles with his own conscience for actions he’s committed in his own life. It had a moral spine, tenuously linked to war and the mental cost of military service.

In the sequel, the military is the story, with Reacher on a conspiracy trail, trying to help wrongly-imprisoned army major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Like the rest of Cruise’s action films of late, the male-female dynamic is generous and deeper than your standard Bond film (admittedly not a high bar to reach, but still). This might please a lot of people who are tired of the very worn-out cliche of damsels in distress etc.

But what really struck me about the film was its focus on war. Cruise is getting older, and his character shows a similar fatigue; he’s worn down by life, but he’s also, quite simply, older. Having a moral compass can excuse Reacher’s violence, but it doesn’t make him a happier person. And nor does war create a happier nation. And is it really safe if its inhabitants live in fear?

Depending on how deeply you look into them, action films rarely transcend their limitations as popcorn flicks. The film is certainly an action flick, but rather than take the well-trodden route of proving the US’ honour in foreign affairs, Reacher questions these things.

This isn’t a highly suspenseful film; it’s not even fast-paced. We know who the bad guys are and Reacher has no real investment in the outcome. It’s not the journey to discovery that’s strongest here, it’s the acknowledgement that war has casualties long after a tour of service has ended. It seems quietly to suggest that sometimes the enemy is within.

Reacher’s nemesis in the film – ‘The Hunter’ – is, like Reacher, ex-military. At one point Reacher asks him when he got back from service, clearly recognising that he’s a damaged man who is unable to separate himself from violence. “I don’t think I ever did,” The Hunter responds.

Another line: “We hurt people.”

I talked about the insidiousness of Hollywood’s cliched Bad Guys from foreign countries over at Junkee when London Has Fallen came out. I’ve criticised American Sniper for the way it glorified the US’ presence in the Middle East and reduced Arabs to dirty, bloodthirsty enemies abroad. But the latest Reacher indicates that Hollywood might just be recognising that audiences are not necessarily seeking more of the same US versus The World narrative. While the film isn’t as good as the original, here’s hoping this instalment is the beginning of a more refreshing, thoughtful narrative when it comes to war.

Will Hollywood Ever Stop White Dudes Gunning Down Random Arab Baddies?

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Update

So I’m obviously not great at updating the website… but work has taken over and I’m not complaining. But I have strayed mainly because any content I write or produce I tend to let live on the website I did it for, rather than simply repost here. Meaning, I haven’t done anything solely for the website in a while. I’d say this is primarily because I’m not always sure what Three Quarters Full is about… but I suppose that’s what makes it mine.

In any case, I’m going to recalibrate and bring you up to speed.

I’m knee-deep in books on spirituality, mysticism and real life stuff. I’m going to try to get into a novel again soon. But I seem to be increasingly leaning towards non-fiction. On that note, I have to say that I quite enjoyed actress/comedian Lauren Weedman’s  Miss Fortune: Fresh Perspectives on Having It All from Someone Who Is Not Okay. Before that I read Leah Remini’s
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. I find the scientology stuff pretty interesting.

But it’s not all Hollywood. I also dove into Raja Shehadeh’s Language of War, Language of Peace: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice. Beautifully written – it’s bursting with emotion even though it’s as much about politics as daily life. I highly recommend it.

Here is a segment I did for ABC RN’s Life Matters program recently – part of an ongoing migrant series I’m doing there between producing on the show.

Alissar Gazal in her kitchen, where she cooked up a storm while sharing stories about her life and connection to the kitchen

Alissar Gazal in her kitchen, where she cooked up a storm while sharing stories about her life and connection to the kitchen

I’m also writing for SBS Life – this is a feature I wrote after reading a provocative update by Ophelia Haragli on Facebook. She runs My Sisters Keeper, and as a cancer sufferer, has a lot to share on living with cancer, and how feel-good campaigns can affect people when they’re unwell.

And for Junkee, I wrote this screed on Hollywood’s tendency to take inspiration from, and exploit, real-world geo-politics in its stories.

American Sniper

Like many, I have read about the effect American Sniper has had on people – on one side, the “right-wing”, “U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!” mob, who I have no doubt felt their juices flowing throughout as the Arabs were pounded into oblivion (it’s that kind of film); on the other side, the “left wing” contingent who thinks it’s irresponsible to provoke more backlash against Arabs by portraying them as “evil” and absent of any humanity and complexity in a movie about, of all things, the complex effects of war.

I wondered if, maybe, it was just that Clint Eastwood had inadvertently given the haters material to work with. After all, he can’t be responsible for how people perceive his work. Years ago, a film called The Siege caused uproar and was riddled with accusations of racism. While I don’t think the movie does much to dispel the “Arabs must be feared” trope we so often see, it tries to. It actually does have a point (even though by the time the film gets to it, you probably don’t care).

And this is the thing about American Sniper – by the end of the film, you are asked to feel very deeply about the loss of every American life, but you are not given any reason to care about the people on the other end of the conflict.

It’s completely one-sided. There is a total absence of humanity on the part of the Iraqis. There are glimpses – very brief moments – where Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle is clearly torn, feeling remorse or something, because he frowns and looks sad. He’s got feelings, at least. But you can’t actually watch this movie and care about the Iraqis, so it seems a flimsy attempt to suggest war has a cost on the mind and soul.

Seriously. It was like a video game. Pew! Pew! Killing the dirty, dark, sinister Arabs.

They were constantly referred to as savages, motherf***ers, and evil, and very little was done to address this hatred, this easy dismissal of anyone who wasn’t an American. There was zero insight into who the Iraqis were, and how they perceived the invasion by American soldiers. The Iraqi sniper whom Chris is determined to snuff out doesn’t even speak. He is portrayed simply and purely as a dark shadow of evil. Not even his personal history as an Olympic champion works in his favour. It seems almost like a nod to “what might have been”. Eastwood is saying, “See? This guy should have stuck to sports.”

However, we are offered the soldiers’ perspectives. The movie is drenched in the sadness and fear and the momentary gungho “f**k yeahs!” you often see in military movies.

Bradley Cooper says that it was meant to be a study of the soldier and the cost of war on them and their families. You certainly get that, and you’re allowed to feel for these angry, aggressive, hate-filled men hating their time in the Middle East where “the dirt tastes like dog s**t”.

Yep. Even the Middle Eastern dirt tastes bad.